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New India-US defense deal

Shamil ShamsJune 2, 2015

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has arrived in India to sign a 10-year defense pact initially agreed during President Obama's India visit in January. What impact would the deal have on regional stability? DW analyzes.

An Indian Army T90 tank drives past during the nation's Republic Day Parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2015 (Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: AFP/Getty Images/S. Loeb

"The 2015 US-India Defense Framework that I will sign next week will open up this relationship on everything, from maritime security to aircraft carrier and jet engine technology cooperation," US Defense Secretary Carter told a meeting in Singapore last week.

Carter arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday, June 2, and during his two-day stay in the South Asian country, he will meet a host of government officials and visit India's Eastern Naval Command in Vishakapatnam.

Ties between Washington and New Delhi have improved since Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist leader, was elected PM in a landslide victory last May. Since then, the two countries have signed several deals related to trade and security.

Modi's administration is expected to carry forward the idea of a joint defense system during talks with Carter. The new 10-year defense framework will contain a specific reference to the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative that seeks to co-develop defense systems, according to local media.

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter attends the first plenary session at the 14th Asia Security Summit, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue 2015 in Singapore on May 30, 2015 (Photo: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Modi's administration is expected to carry forward the idea of a joint defense system during talks with CarterImage: Getty Images/AFP/R. Rahman

"India and the US will be renewing their 10-year defense framework, which further expands cooperation in defense ties - maritime security, joint exercises, intelligence-sharing," explained Gauri Khandekar, head of the Asia Program at the European think tank FRIDE, in Brussels. "A new element is co-development and co-production of military technologies - from aircraft carrier launch systems to mini spy-drones- fitting in with Modi's 'Make in India' project," the analyst told DW.

Deal's timing and objectives

Explaining why the US is forging closer ties with India more proactively than ever, Ben Moores, a senior analyst for aerospace, defense and security at global analytics firm IHS, said there were a number of reasons behind it.

"First, India has more resources to spend than it previously did so it can afford higher-end US equipment. Two, India requires more capable equipment to deal with an aggressive and increasingly capable China. India's nationalized defense industry simply isn't able to supply equipment in the timeframe or to the specification required," Moores told DW, adding that Washington was looking to support other regional powers in an attempt to bolster its own position.

Amit Cowshish, a former Financial Advisor (Acquisition) for India's Ministry of Defense, says it is logical and understandable that the US considers India a committed ally in the South Asian region: "Shared democratic values and common interests in fields other than defense are the main drivers of the India-US relationship, but it is India's role as a stabilizing factor in the region and convergence between the two countries on US policy of Rebalance in Asia-Pacific and India's Act East policy that drives close defense ties," Cowshish told DW.

US-Indian ties are also partly driven by India's quest for self-reliance in defense production where the US can play a major role by offering technologies that India requires, Cowshish added. "It complements the interest of the US companies as India presently happens to be one of the largest buyers of arms."

Khandekar agrees: "The US is emerging as the top arms exporter to India. It is fast unseating Russia from that position. India and the US also cooperate closely on counter-terrorism," she told DW.

According to IHS, the US exported $68 million worth of equipment to India in 2010. Just four years later, that number had risen to $2268 million, thus making the US India's single largest supplier last year. Moreover, the US has a $13 billion backlog of defense orders from India as of 2015. Whilst Russia, India’s traditional partner of choice has a $10 billion backlog of defence orders from India as of 2015.

Islamabad's criticism

Pakistan has lashed out at the US-India defense deal, with Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry saying that "any discriminatory treatment is not good for strategic stability."

Chaudhry, who is in Washington to hold talks on security, strategic stability and non-proliferation with US officials, also said that maintaining strategic balance in the region was necessary for peace in South Asia.

"This will be our main line in the talks," he told reporters in Washington on Monday. The foreign secretary, however, said that the US-India nuclear deal in 2006, had already "affected strategic stability which existed before that."

Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif (R), Afghan Army Chief General Mohammad Karimi (L) and ISAF Commander-General John Campbell (C) meet at the Pakistan Army Command on December 23,2014 after a gun-and-bomb terrorist attack on the army-run school in northwestern Pakistan’s Peshawar city killed over 140 people, mostly students, on December 16
Pakistan is no longer as important for the US as it once was, analysts sayImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Pakistan Army Forces-Anadolu Agency

But analyst Cowshish points out that the signing of the defense agreement does not amount to a military alliance between India and the US. "It cannot, therefore, impact regional stability any more than the actions taken by Pakistan over the years, which has received arms and other support from the US, and has an 'all-weather friendship' with China."

'Disillusionment' with Pakistan

Although US-Pakistani ties are not hostile, they are also not as cordial as they were in the past decade when Islamabad was the main US ally in its war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Since the drawdown of most US combat troops from Afghanistan, Pakistan is no longer as important for the US as it once was, analysts say.

"Pakistan's objections are inconsequential," said Gauri Khandekar. "The US is disillusioned with Pakistan. A stronger India would actually enhance regional stability. It would also enable India and the US to better tackle terror threats emerging from Pakistan or the broader region."

In this context, the Brussels-based expert pointed to the Indian defense minister's recent statement in which he warned that Middle Eastern Sunni militant group "Islamic State" (IS) could get hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

"This is not a claim that can be easily ignored given Pakistan's deep involvement in Islamic terrorism," she added.

Regional balance

While New Delhi has revived its defense and trade relations with Washington, Islamabad has moved closer to its long-time ally Beijing to counter its arch rival's increasing economic and military dominance in the region.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi shake hands at the end of their joint press conference at Beijing's Great Hall of the People on May 15, 2015 (Pool photo by Kyodo News)
India has increased cooperation with China alsoImage: picture-alliance/dpa/MAXPPP

But Khandekar says that India, too, has increased cooperation with China, and that Beijing will not go against New Delhi only to fulfill Pakistan's desire for a regional strategic balance.

"Pakistan already has a close relationship with China, and it would get closer if and when China decided. If Pakistan decided to have even closer ties with China because of the US-India pact, I doubt this would happen overnight. Besides, Sino-Indian relations are growingly important to Beijing in terms of trade, security and the broader picture of multilateral cooperation."

DW Asia's Gabriel Dominguez has contributed to the story.